Thu, Jan 01, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The power of questions for students in limbo

By Prudence Chou 周祝瑛

Since the global financial tsunami hit Taiwan, the number of unemployed has exceeded 500,000, while the number of those whose employment will be affected in some way will soon break through 1 million.

The situation is deteriorating for those with hidden “atypical employment” such as dispatch and part-time jobs and forced leave without pay. From the financial and technology industries to the tourist hotel industry, large numbers of employees are being laid off. Even people with master’s degrees are attending employment fairs looking for low-end jobs such as waitering.

How should college and university students react to Taiwan’s “new three lows” — low interest rates, low salaries and low confidence? Can they break through at a time when we still don’t know how deep the economic downturn will be, and cultivate alternative skills that cannot be substituted in the workplace?

Many professors worry at the younger generation’s lack of ambition, lack of foreign language ability, limited international perspective and inability to meet challenges. Many selective courses with more comprehensive content, a heavy workload and demanding teachers are often canceled because of a lack of students or poor student feedback.

This is because students want high scores — by listening to lectures that do not require preparation — and do not want teachers checking attendance. Students can graduate with a brilliant report card but lacking the most basic abilities.

Furthermore, students do not know how to ask questions, nor do they like doing so. Only a few are able to raise systematic questions and are willing to get to the bottom of a matter or challenge the teacher.

Of course, we cannot blame this on students alone. Because Taiwan’s educational environment still focuses heavily on multiple choice questions, elementary school learning focuses on memorizing fragmented knowledge and drills.

Students are so busy attending cram schools and private tutorials that they have little opportunity for extracurricular reading or experiencing real life. As a result, much of their learning is “false” because it deteriorates into abstraction and meaningless rote learning, even as they suffer from a lack of training logic and problem-solving skills.

With this background, students feel that they cannot adapt to analysis and criticism by university professors that allow no standard answers. They often do not know how to ask questions, instead simply listening to their teachers’ unchallenged lectures.

Worse, as more and more students are accepted to university, many students unsuitable for such studies enter and graduate because of low entry thresholds.

Meanwhile, many vocational senior colleges have given in to temptation and upgraded to university-level institutions. Unfortunately, their approach to education is in many cases not upgraded to reflect the change. Instead, they lower their standards to attract students.

University teachers are also required to do research and publish and are pressured by schools to obtain doctoral degrees. Students who are in need of remedial education and counseling are therefore easily passed over and unable to develop personal skills and career goals.

Can we nurture talent such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang (楊致遠)? Where is the next Formosa Plastics Group founder Wang Yung-ching (王永慶), Evergreen Group chairman Chang Yung-fa (張榮發) or Hon Hai Group chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘)? Can universities or even secondary and elementary schools produce such talent today?

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